One of the largest toy drives in the Chicago area, which delivers to 60 locations across the city and suburbs, is at it again.
Only with Thanksgiving falling so late in November, organizers find themselves scrambling to fulfill their obligations.
• Aberdeens Wedding Florist, 3829 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago; (773) 282-8272.
• Gary Morava Recreation Center, 110 W. Camp McDonald Road, Prospect Heights; (847) 394-2848.
• Lindenhurst Early Childhood Center, 309 Granada Blvd., Lindenhurst; (847) 356-2288.
"We're down," says Frank Davis of Prospect Heights. "It's already December, and donations are way down."
He and his father-in-law, Jim Harney, former owner of Aberdeens Wedding Florist in Chicago, are not out, however. They have faced adversity before -- and recovered even stronger.
It was in December 2003 that burglars broke into Aberdeens, on Harlem Avenue, stealing $2,000 and 70 toys the staff had donated for a children's Christmas party.
The subsequent media coverage caught the imagination of people around the Chicago area, and before they knew it, Aberdeens was overflowing with tens of thousands of donated toys.
That was the start of something big.
Since that year, Harney and Davis have made it their mission to collect thousands of toys each year and deliver them to hospitals, special needs schools and other organizations. They need 6,000 toys every year to meet the need.
"They depend on us," says Davis, who has formed a full-fledged nonprofit organization called the 100 Percent Foundation, to organize the toy drive as well as other charitable projects.
Little City Foundation in Palatine is one of their stops. Each year, Davis and members of Boy Scout Troop 37 in Arlington Heights distribute toys to children served by the agency at their annual party.
"Many of these children are wards of the state, and wouldn't get presents otherwise," says Catrina Johnson, volunteer services manager.
At the party, Scouts partner with the residents, helping them to pick out two presents before enjoying the rest of the party.
One of Troop 37's senior members, Willie Westmoreland of Arlington Heights, says he enjoys the interaction, but he sees their role as an extension of their Scout oath.
"Boy Scouts is not just an organization, it's a way of life," says Westmoreland, a Hersey High School senior. "We look to do a good turn daily."
His Scoutmaster, Dave Ferriss, says his nearly 40 Scouts enjoy the holiday project each year, from the decorating of the collection boxes to distributing the toys.
"It's one of the highlights of our year," Ferriss said at their meeting Monday night. "They get a good feeling knowing they're helping out."
Davis says he and Harney are able to continue their drive each year with the help of partners like the Scouts. He points to Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 as another major supporter.
Each school in District 23 has a collection box and winds up contributing hundreds of toys, all of which will be distributed to local organizations.
In Lake County, the Lindenhurst Early Childhood Center is a collection point for toys donated to such agencies as Vista Health System and Kids Hope United, both in Waukegan; Allendale Association in Lake Villa, Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Nicasa in Round Lake.